Say What? There’s Dairy in my Indian Food?

You’d think I’d have learned by now. One would assume that after eating dairy free for three years I would know to ask restaurants if there are any secret milky ingredients or definite no-nos in my dinner that are not mentioned on the menu. I assumed that because so many vegetarians and vegans I know eat Indian food, I could safely order an Indian dish or two and not worry about it. I also assumed, incorrectly, that since Indian food follows Ayurveda, translated as the “traditional medicine" of India and known as the sister science of yoga, it would be dairy free. Enter ghee, clarified butter made from cow’s milk. As I learned from Cooks Illustrated last month, ghee is from South Asia and is used in most Indian (as well as Bangladeshi, Nepali, Sri Lankan, and Pakistani) cuisine as a base for many dishes. Here is what you need to know about ghee: Ghee is composed almost entirely of saturated fat, which is the good fat that we all need. Ghee has a very high smoke point and doesn't burn easily during cooking. Because Ghee is composed of short chain fatty acids, it metabolized very readily by the body. Therefore, ghee might work for you if you are cutting out casein, the protein found in dairy. But, if you have an issue with lactose and you eat some ghee, you might as well chomp on butter. For me, lactose is the enemy. Cutting dairy out of my diet has been amazing for my wellbeing, but since I quit it, having even the smallest bit of lactose can send my body into a fit of rage. So, last night when I went to our local Indian restaurant to pick up dinner, I asked if they used ghee in any of the dishes we ordered. The woman told me that they do not use ghee, rather, they use vegetable oil. Ok, not as authentic, definitely not as healthy given the trans fats, certainly not Ayurvedic, but for me, better than ghee. When I explained to the restauranteur why I asked the question, that I did not eat dairy, she said, “oh. Well, our curries all have cream in them”. Whoa! Who knew that for so many years I was not eating simple ghee, but cream- the creme de la crème of intestinal irritants?!? I wondered how many times I’ve eaten dairy inadvertently and why I was unable to detect it. I suppose I always chalked it up to my body’s natural cycle of having good days and bad days and contributed pain and other symptoms to factors that I could not isolate. Now, I know better. Even the most health conscious among us can get into trouble when we make assumptions. And you know what they say about assumptions . . .So now I just ask. I got my meal made sans cream. It was delicious.